Tuesday, April 8, 2008

WNU #942: Haitian Protesters Demand Food

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #942, April 6, 2008

1. Haiti: Protesters Demand Food
2. Haiti: Protesters Blame UN for Death
3. Mexico: Border Activists Arrested

ISSN#: 1084-922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/

*1. Haiti: Protesters Demand Food
Some 5,000 protesters shut down the southern Haitian city of Les Cayes on Apr. 3 in a dramatic demonstration against President René Préval's government for failing to slow the rising cost of food and other staple products; they also protested the local administration's failure to maintain roads. From early in the morning people barricaded streets with burning tires, forcing stores, banks and schools to close down in the city, the country's third largest. While many people demonstrated peacefully, others looted food and containers of cement from trucks and warehouses. Some protesters raided the offices of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in the Breset neighborhood, carrying away computers and other office equipment. Two MINUSTAH vehicles were set on fire.

Official sources said on Apr. 3 that there were no major injuries in the Les Cayes protests, and MINUSTAH spokesperson Fred Blaise claimed that crowds were under control by the end of the day. Sources in Les Cayes gave a different story, reporting that the disturbances continued into Apr. 4 and that two people were shot dead and 18 were injured, 12 of them by bullets, during the 48 hours of demonstrations. Some people put the number of the dead at four; one of those killed was said to be named Jean Baptiste Zary. There were conflicting reports on who was responsible for the shooting, although some people in Les Cayes blamed soldiers trying to drive back the demonstrators. On Apr. 4 Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis confirmed one death.

Demonstrations against the high cost of living--lavichè ("expensive life") in Creole--broke out in other areas. Hundreds protested on Apr. 3 in Gonaïves on the northwest coast. The protests there were largely peaceful, but United Nations workers were evacuated to a police base, and five people were injured with rocks as protesters tired to force the Frabre Geffrard high school's administration to let the students join the demonstrations. Gonaïves is Haiti's fourth largest city. Protests started in the southern city of Petit-Goâve on Apr. 4 as demonstrators tried to close schools and bring out students. Students marched in downtown Port-au-Prince the same day to protest the cost of living.

As in other parts of the world, food prices have been rising sharply in Haiti, where 80% of the population lives on less than $2 a day. In Port-au-Prince the cost of rice, beans, condensed milk and fruit has gone up some 50% from a year ago, while the cost of spaghetti has doubled.

After initially blaming the protests in Les Cayes on drug dealers and smugglers, on Apr. 4 Prime Minister Alexis announced that "the government is in solidarity with the population, which is proving to be worried about the high cost of living." He said the government would immediately disburse 400 million gourdes (about $10.43 million) for soup kitchens and a program providing jobs in maintaining the sanitation system. For the longer term he promised a package of programs to reduce the cost of living, including 65 million gourdes ($1.51 million) for sanitation, 400 million gourdes ($10.43 million) for micro-credit through the National Bank and local lenders, 90 million gourdes ($2.34 million) in agricultural production, and 44 million gourdes ($1.14 million) for food programs in schools and universities. (Globe and Mail (Toronto) 4/4/08 from AP; Haiti Support Network News Briefs 4/4/08 from AP; AlterPresse 4/3/08, 4/4/08, 4/4/08, 4/5/08; Agence Haïtienne de Presse (AHP) 4/4/08)

In March unnamed sources reported that the government was planning to ask Parliament to raise the minimum wage to 150 gourdes ($3.90) a day, about double the current level. The leftist labor movement Batay Ouvriye ("Workers' Struggle") charges that the plan shows the "antipopular and corrupt character of the current government." The group had called for a minimum wage of 350-450 gourdes in 2003, during the government of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide. According to the Haitian internet news service AlterPresse, unnamed "other labor organizations" support the government's plan for 150 gourdes. (AlterPresse 3/25/08) [The minimum wage only directly impacts the relatively small number of Haitians employed in the formal sector.]

*2. Haiti: Protesters Blame UN for Death
On Apr. 2 some 400 people demonstrated in Ouanaminthe, a city in eastern Haiti that shares the border with the Dominican city of Dajabón, to press demands for justice from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the Haitian judicial system in the death of 20-year-old student Emanne Saintilmont a month earlier. The Committee for Justice for Emanne blamed MINUSTAH soldiers for the young man's death and accused local officials and judges of corruption. Agents of the National Police of Haiti intervened to keep the crowd from approaching the local MINUSTAH office, although the demonstrators succeeded in delivering a letter of protest to officials there. (AlterPresse 4/3/08 from Solidarite Fwontalye/Service Jésuite aux Réfugiés et Migrants press release 4/2/08)

*3. Mexico: Border Activists Arrested
On the evening of Apr. 3 Mexican federal police agents arrested two activists in the northern state of Chihuahua for their roles in militant protests blocking federal highways: Cipriana Jurado Herrera, a leader in the movement demanding justice for the more than 450 young women killed in the Ciudad Juárez area since the 1990s; and Carlos Chávez Quevedo, a leader in the National Agrodynamic Organization (OAN), which has protested high electricity rates for pumping from the wells that area farmers use for irrigation. Both activists were released on bail the night of Apr. 4 after some 50 people staged a sit-in in front of the federal judicial office in Ciudad Juárez.

Chávez founded the OAN in collaboration with another farmer activist, Armando Villarreal Martha, who was murdered on Mar. 14 in broad daylight by a group of heavily armed men [see Update #939]. Jurado--who was charged with participation in a blockade of the Santa Fe international bridge in July 2007 to demand the return of missing women--is the director of the Center for Investigation and Worker Solidarity (CISO) and has been active in cross-border solidarity work with US groups. She had spoken out strongly the week before her arrest against President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa's use of federal troops against organized crime. "[W]e have had experiences that at the checkpoints violations of the community's human rights have been committed," she said [see Updates #916, 927]. Upon her release, Jurado charged that the government was using repression against social leaders to intimidate them, especially to prevent protests against the possible privatization of parts of the state oil monopoly, Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). (La Jornada (Mexico) 4/5/08, 4/6/08; SouthWest Organizing Project 4/4/08)

As of Mar. 30, the military was investigating 16 soldiers in the shooting deaths of four young men in Santiago de los Caballeros, Badiraguato, in the western state of Sinaloa, on Mar. 26. The soldiers opened fire on the men as they were driving a van to a party; two other passengers were wounded. All the victims were unarmed. (LJ 3/31/08)

More breaking stories from alternative sources:
Argentina: Farmers Declare One-Month Truce

Argentina: Empty Shelves, Drowned Chicks as Farm Strike Rages

Argentina: Farm Strike Exposes Fernández's Weak Flank

Expansion of Biotechnology in Brazil Brings Violence

Where the Asphalt Ends: Bogota's Periferies

Paraguay: Elections, Yellow Fever, and a Meddling Ambassador

How Green is the Latin American Left? A Look at Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia

Ecuadorian Parliament OKs Ban on Foreign Military Bases

Military Crisis in South America: The Results of Plan Colombia

Colombia's Gold Bonanza: Canadian Mining Leads to "Economic Forced Displacement"

Colombia: soldiers arrested in Peace Community massacre

Crisis along the Rio Dulce in Guatemala: The Death of Mario Caal

Latin American Food Fights

Energy Integration and Security in Latin America and the Caribbean

Presidential Candidates on Trade

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, new from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

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